3D print your own breakfast A 3D printed dish made with the lab's printer. (Timothy Lee Photographers, Columbia University)
3D print your own breakfast
Lexile

Imagine coming down for breakfast. You don’t pop a piece of toast in the toaster or boil an egg. Instead, you stick a cartridge in a printer. A minute or two goes by. Then you’ve got a freshly printed banana and a muffin.

The printed breakfast is several steps closer to reality for the average consumer.

"Food printing may be the 'killer app' of 3D printing." That's according to Hod Lipson. He's led the creation of the new printer. "It's completely uncharted territory." 

Lipson is a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University. He has been studying 3D printing for nearly 20 years. He is working on printing things like plastics, metals, electronics and biomaterials. His work on 3D food printing came out of his research on printing complete 3D robots. They could, in theory, “walk off the printer.”  

What does it take to achieve something like this? A printer must be able to print with many materials at the same time. Lipson experimented with making multi-material printers. He noticed the students in his lab were beginning to use food as a test material.

“They were using cookie dough, cheese, chocolate, all kinds of food materials you might find around an engineering lab,” he says. “In the beginning, it was sort of a frivolous thing. But when people came to the lab and looked at it, they actually got really excited by the food printing.”

Lipson and his team began to take a more serious look at just what they could do with food. There are two basic approaches to 3D food printing, Lipson explains. The first involves using powders. They are bound together during the printing process with a liquid such as water. The second approach is extrusion-based. It uses syringes that deposit gels or pastes in specific locations.

Lipson’s prototype involves an infrared cooking element. It  cooks various parts of the printed product at specific times.

“We’ve used all kinds of materials, with different levels of success,” Lipson says. 

“Sometimes the materials are conventional. Cream cheese is something students like to work with a lot.”

They’ve also recently collaborated with a New York culinary school. They let chefs play around with the prototype.

“They kind of broke the machine by really pushing it to its limits,” Lipson says. 

“One thing we’ve learned is printing in cream cheese is very easy. But printing in polenta and beets is very hard. It has these granules in it.  So from an engineering standpoint it’s much more challenging.”

It’s also difficult to predict how different foods will fare when combined. It’s easy enough to create recipes based on single items like chocolate. Those properties are well-established. But when you start to mix things together the mixtures may have much more complex behaviors. 

Another challenge is figuring out when to cook what during the printing process. If you’re printing a pyramid of salmon and mashed potatoes, the salmon and the potatoes will need very different cooking times and temperatures. The team is tackling this problem with software design. They are working with computer scientists to create software that will predict what the final product will look like.

The printer Lipson's team has made is not the only food printer to be developed in recent years. There are products like Hershey’s chocolate-printing CocoJet or the Magic Candy Factory’s 3D gummy printer. They are both for single-ingredients. This limits their use for the general public. Lipson’s printer is unique. It is able to handle many ingredients at once and cook them as it goes.

Lipson sees the printer as having two main uses for consumers. First, it could be a specialty appliance for cooking novel foods. These are difficult to achieve by any other process. You could print, say, a complex pastry designed by someone in Japan or a recipe you’d never have the expertise or equipment to make by hand. Lipson says he could imagine digital recipes going viral. He can see them spreading across the globe. 

The second use is about health and targeted nutrition. People are already increasingly interested in personal biometrics. This includes tracking their blood pressure, pulse, calorie burn and more. They do so using cell phones and computers. In the future, it may be possible to track your own health in much greater detail such as your blood sugar, your calcium needs or your current vitamin D level. The printer could then respond to those details with a customized meal. This is produced from a cartridge of ingredients.

“Imagine a world where the breakfast that you eat has exactly what you need that day,” Lipson says. “Your muffin has, say, a little less sugar, a little more calcium.”

When might the printer might be available to consumers? Lipson says it’s more a business challenge than a technology one.

“How do you get FDA approval? How do you sell the cartridges? Who owns the recipe? How do you make money off this?” he says. “It’s a completely new way of thinking about food. It’s very radical.”

A recent redesign of the prototype may bring the product closer to being something the average consumer would accept. Previous versions of the printer were very high-tech and full of tubes and sticking-out nozzles. People had a hard time imagining it on their kitchen counters.

Then, one of Lipson’s students named Drim Stokhuijzen, an industrial designer, completely redesigned the machine. He gave it the sleek look of a high-end coffee maker.

“His design is so beautiful people are saying for the first time, ‘oh, I can see the appeal of food printing, this is something I might actually use,’” Lipson says.

Although Lipson doesn’t think 3D food printing will replace other cooking techniques, he does think it will change the kitchen.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
If you could 3D print your breakfast, what would it be and why?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (112)
  • veruanikkan-cel
    9/22/2017 - 02:28 p.m.

    I felt that this article was very interesting.Human advances in technology have come so far. If I could print any breakfast in the printer it would be waffles with a side of turkey bacon. That is my favorite meal to have in the morning, so it would be cool to see it printed

  • Mackenziero-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:54 a.m.

    In response to "3D print your own breakfast," I agree that having a 3D printer to print out your breakfast in the morning would be cool and fast. One reason I agree is that instead of having to take time to buy the food you could just take a picture of what you want and print it. Another reason is that you wouldn't have to wait on it to cook causing you to be late. It says in the article, "The printed breakfast is several steps closer to reality for the average consumer." A third reason this is a good and quicker idea is that it wouldn't take any effort. You could be brushing your hair or getting dressed while your food is printing. Even though it might not happen any time soon, I think it is a good use of money and time.

  • Nicholasv-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:58 a.m.

    This article, 3D print your own breakfast, talks about an engineer that discovers a way to make foods by using a 3D printer.The article states that ¨Then, one of Lipson’s students named Drim Stokhuijzen, an industrial designer, completely redesigned the machine. He gave it the sleek look of a high-end coffee maker.¨ Hod Lipson states that Although Lipson doesn’t think 3D food printing will ¨replace other cooking techniques, he does think it will change the kitchen.¨So in conclusion I think that Hold Lipson has invented an amazing thing that will revolutionize cooking.

  • Emmas-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 08:59 a.m.

    This article about 3D printing your food was very interesting and amazing how scientist are learning how to print edible food from only a certain amount of materials. One scientist who was involved was Hod Lipson, he was studying for 20 year of printing. Lipson was working with plastic, and metals before he thought of the food idea. Lipson did his experiment on a multi-product printer that allows you to use many products to create one. His machine also could cook anything at a certain degrees and use all the nutrition you might need. This scientist took along time before he could actually conduct this experiment and have an answer. He had long patience an could create a magnificent outcome.

  • Cassidyl-dav
    9/25/2017 - 10:46 a.m.

    I think its amazing how you can print breakfast instead of having to make it everyday. That man is going to make a lot of money.

  • Alexs-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 10:47 a.m.

    I would print toast, eggs, bacon, waffles,and grits. I would print those things because I like those things, and grits would be pretty hard to print. Also I really don't understand the concept of it. Last the taste of the food would be a lot different than actually cooking it.

  • Seanc-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 10:48 a.m.

    I think it would be cool to put in a cartage and eggs will be made in a few minutes. But how many times could you use the cartage, is a one time thing or is it like a life time use? Also could it be like a drink dispenser too because that would be cool!

  • PaytonC-dav
    9/25/2017 - 10:48 a.m.

    If i could 3D print my breakfast it would be a muffin and strawberries because that is my favorite breakfast meal.

  • Braleya-dav
    9/25/2017 - 10:50 a.m.

    If I could print my own 3D breakfast it would be beacon, eggs, and pancakes. In my personal opinion i think that the 3D printer is a bad idea because I would like to make breakfast by myself and not have technology make it for me.

  • Madisonm-dav3
    9/25/2017 - 10:51 a.m.

    If I could 3D print breakfast it would be bacon and eggs, Because its my favorite breakfast meal. I also think it would be easy for the computer to make. I also think it is a good idea printing breakfast because some people don't know how to cook and some people don't feel like cooking .

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